The Australian Consular State of Play for 2016-17

How many Australians need to be rescued overseas?

When Australian consular officials provide assistance to an Australian citizen experiencing difficulties overseas they open a case in DFAT’s Consular Information System. By looking at the numbers you can get a good idea of how many Australians get in serious trouble overseas, and what kind of trouble they find themselves in.

Statistics are compiled from these cases and every year a report is issued (the State of Play) showing the number and type of cases that were managed. The trends revealed from these statistics can help DFAT identify areas of concern and take steps to educate Australians on how to stay safer when travelling outside Australia. They're used to determine how resources are best allocated, and how to set government travel warnings.

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How many Australians need help overseas?

In 2016-2017, the Consular Emergency Centre responded to 66,060 calls, mostly in Thailand, the USA and Indonesia. That doesn't mean those areas are necessarily any more dangerous than others, but mostly that a lot of Australians visit these countries.

Missing passports were one of the most common issues, with 7,370 emergency passports issued by consulates overseas, most in new York, Los Angeles, Paris, Madrid and Rome.

Sometimes the consulate will also issue emergency loans, but these are incredibly rare. Emergency loans were issued to 211 Australians, up 7% from 2015-16, but down 29% from five years ago. You're more likely to be arrested, assaulted or caught in a natural disaster overseas than you are to get an emergency loan from the consulate, so it's probably not worth counting on that instead of travel insurance.

Each year is different, and as traveller demographics and hazards change, so do the types of emergencies that officials need to respond to.

Crime and natural disasters

Serious crimes like kidnapping and assault, and serious natural disasters like earthquakes, might be some of the main concerns people have while travelling overseas. But they aren't the most common concerns. Thankfully they remain rare.

  • International emergencies: 1,851 Australians went missing in international emergencies in 2016-2017, significantly lower than the 5,003 from the year before.
  • Missing persons: Consular officials dealt with 695 missing persons enquiries (up 20%), mostly in Thailand and USA.
  • Assault: There were 39% more cases involving assistance to victims of assault than in 2012-13.
  • Sexual assault: Cases involving sexual assault comprised 45% of assault cases, with no particular country being prevalent.

Imprisonment overseas

The consulate can respond to alerts of Australians being arrested overseas, as well as offering assistance to those who are currently serving time. The Australian government can try to offer help where it can, but can't just override the laws of another country even if they're archaic, unreasonable, enforced by a corrupt police force or if you were framed.

  • Detained overseas: Assistance was provided in 1,641 cases of Australians arrested or detained overseas (up 6%), with most involving immigration detention.
  • Serving prison sentences: Consular officials managed 370 cases involving Australians serving a sentence of imprisonment, mostly in USA and China.
  • Most arrested-in countries: The Top 5 countries where Australians were arrested on drug-related charges were USA, Thailand, UAE, China and Philippines.

Illnesses, hospitalisations and age-related health issues

The average age of travellers is increasing for some kinds of trips, which can quickly change the likelihood of different events on the State of Play.

The fact of life is that the older someone is the more likely they are to experience a health issue, whether on vacation or at home. Travel insurance can get more expensive with age, but that just reflects how much more important it is to have it. Fortunately there are still ways to save money on travel insurance and find policies with age limits as high as 100.

  • Hospitalisation overseas: 1,701 Australians were hospitalised overseas, much higher than it was five years ago. Most of these were in Thailand, although hospitalisations in New Caledonia were also up by 37% which may reflect its growing popularity as a cruise destination.
  • Deaths overseas: Support was provided to families in 1,615 cases of Australians who had died overseas (up 9%). Most deaths were a result of illness or natural causes (possibly due to an ageing population travelling more and retiring overseas).

Bad insurance

Australians are getting a lot better at picking up travel insurance before heading abroad. In 2016-2017, over 90% of travellers made sure it was on their list. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of room for improvement when choosing a policy, and avoiding bad travel insurance.

  • The cheapest: Many travellers are simply opting for the cheapest insurance they see on comparison sites. This sometimes leads to travellers not being covered when they thought they were.
  • Misunderstanding limitations: Many do not understand the limitations of their policies or read the information thoroughly.
  • Cruise underinsurance: Almost half of all recent cruise goers (48%) left themselves underinsured or uninsured, in contrast to the 90% who are getting travel insurance overall. Many Australians still don't understand that they might need cruise travel insurance instead of generic cover.
  • Repeat visitor overconfidence: Travellers visiting friends and relatives, or going somewhere they've been before, are more likely to travel uninsured.

Australians are still improving though. The incidence of common misunderstandings has fallen by around 30%, with 82% of travellers seeking information about travel insurance in 2017, compared with only 70% in 2016.


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Andrew Munro

Andrew writes for finder.com, comparing products, writing guides and looking for new ways to help people make smart decisions. He's a fan of insurance, business news and cryptocurrency.

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